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A problematical squib by Chesterton

Triolet of the Self-examining Journalist

My writing is bad
And my speaking is worse
I have lost all I had
My writing is bad,
It’s dreadfully sad
And I don’t care a curse
My writing is bad
And my speaking is worse.

G.K. Chesterton
Feb. 27.1912.

Here’s a literary puzzle to gnaw on. In his introduction to volume ten of G. K. Chesterton: the Collected Works, Denis J Conlon maintains that addressing a meeting of the Distributist League at Gatti’s Restaurant in London on January 11, 1934, Chesterton summed up what he called his moral, mental and spiritual condition in an ‘ impromptu triolet ‘. Conlon prints this squib, which in every respect but one, is identical to the one printed above. In the later version the third line has become ‘They were all that I had ‘.

But consider the date at the bottom of the piece. This ‘impromptu ‘ triolet appears to have been anything but an off-the cuff piece , having seemingly been  composed 22 years earlier. In fact, this earlier version was written in Chesterton’s distinctive hand on a blank page torn from a book which I discovered among a small archive of assorted letters and autographs a few years ago. So what’s happening here? Chesterton has signed the composition, which suggests to me one of two possibilities. Chesterton could have written out the triolet in February 1912 and signed it as a favour to someone who requested a signed sample of his handwriting. Alternatively, the manuscript may have been sent to the editor of some magazine for publication around that same date.

Now Conlon maintains that Chesterton ‘never seems to have collected his own poems ‘ and so, assuming that Conlon was familiar with Chesterton’s collected poetic oeuvre, it seems likely that the ‘Triolet of the Self- Examining Journalist’ was a fugitive piece that somehow escaped his critical attention. How else can one explain his assertion that the 1934 version was ‘an impromptu  triolet’ ?

Other explanations are welcome. [RMH]

Thanks for this. Of course GKC could be fibbing or playing a joke, like Father Brown changing the salt and sugar shakers. I once had tea at a tea room in Abinger Hammer where 70 years or so before GKC had been due to address the local literati unfortunately due to his girth he could not fit up the narrow twisting staircase. As the only alternative would have been to winch him up to the first floor they made do with the ground floor.

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